Here’s a shocker; I’m rooting for the Giants to win the World Series. I mean, heck, they’ve been my favorite team for forty plus years now: figured I’d stick with ’em for the Series.
As I’ve previously noted, I’m perfectly aware that rooting for a professional sports team is absurd. And yeah, it’s arbitrary, especially when a kid from Indiana, currently living in Utah, just, like, decides that the San Francisco team is the one. And over the years, my allegiance to the Giants has been sorely tested. Take the ’79 team, for example. (The shortstop that year: Johnnie Lemaster. Affectionately known as Johnnie Disaster). Or ’88. Or ’05. Some real stinkers in there.
What made the 2010 World Series winning Giants so special was how unexpected it all was. The previous WS champs were way back in 1954, when I was negative two years old. Good teams since, even three World Serieses; ’62, ’89, ’02. Now we’re back in the World Series, one of the most unlikely Series’ teams in history.
First round of the playoffs: we played the Cincinatti Reds. The Reds are really good, scary good, great hitting team with terrific pitching. First round series are best 3 of 5, and after we lost the first 2 games in San Fransciso, we had to win 3 straight in Cincinatti. And they hadn’t lost 3 straight at home all season long. And, game 3, their starting pitcher, Homer Bailey, allowed 1 hit. One. Uno.
But we won. Fought and scraped and Ryan Vogelsong pitched like a mensch, and we got a run on a hit batsman, a walk, a bunt, and a fly ball, and then finally got Bailey out of there, and won in 10 innings, on a Reds error. And then won two more to advance.
Second round of the playoffs: the Cardinals. Lost 3 of the first 4 (in a best of 7 format), and had to sweep the last 3 games to pull it out. And did. Right now, this Giants team has faced 6 games they absolutely had to win to stay alive in the playoffs. They’ve gone 6-0 in those games. They’re tougher than a two dollar steak, harder to kill than Rasputin. They’ve climbed out of more graves than Bela Lugosi.
Last night’s game, though, gives some idea why this team is so hard to beat when it counts. If you value good old American competence, quiet confidence, back to the basics, savvy, skill, moxie, old school fundamentals, ‘git ‘er done proficiency, then you’ll like this Giants’ team. Here’s Tom Verducci, of Sports Illustrated:
If the Giants win the World Series by playing like this, this will be the first official World Series DVD that will be released as an instructional video. They turn every double play that needs to be turned, run the bases with speed and smarts, make every play on defense, don’t walk people and, even when they miss cutoff men, have people in the right spot and execute flawlessly.
Three plays, last night. Second inning: Madison Bumgarner, our absurdly talented 23 year-old pitcher, starts the inning by plunking Prince Fielder, the Tigers’ first baseman. Fielder likes to lean over the plate; Madbum tried to back him off with a fastball in, and got it a little too far inside. The Tigers’ next hitter was Delmon Young. He ripped a double down the left field line. Here’s the play. A few points:
First, our left fielder, Gregor Blanco, is a 29 year old career minor leaguer, who has been bouncing around looking for a job his whole life, basically. He’s fast, a terrific fielder, a great bunter, but he’s not much of a hitter; he starts for us because Melky Cabrera crashed and burned. You can see on the video; he overruns the play at first, but recovers incredibly quickly. There’s been a lot of criticism of Gene Lamont, the Tigers’ third base coach, for sending Prince Fielder home on that play, but he saw Blanco overrun the ball; he can’t have anticipated Blanco’s fast recovery. Blanco’s throw was off-line; he’s supposed to hit the shortstop with that relay, but Marco Scutaro, our second baseman, was exactly where he’s supposed to be, backing up Brandon Crawford. Scutaro had a tough throw, too. Prince Fielder’s a big guy; a lot of the time, that relay throw hits the runner in the back. But Scutaro threw it to the front of the plate, instead of straight to home. And Buster Posey, our catcher, made a perfect swipe tag. The whole thing is just a perfect example of fundamental baseball.
Second play came in the 7th inning. Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ best hitter, starts the inning off with a great at bat, fouling off several pitches before Madbum just missed with a slider outside for ball four. So, leadoff guy on first, no out, in a tie game. Prince Fielder then hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Bumgarner fielded it cleanly, then waited just a second before making the throw to second. Now, that double play, the 1-6-3 double play, is a tough one; I see it get screwed up a lot. The pitcher’s throwing to a moving target, the shortstop, coming across second. But Bumgarner, first, didn’t rush the throw. He waited until Brandon Crawford, our shortstop, was in position. Then he threw it to the third base side of second. So Crawford could catch the throw, tag second for the out, and have the bag between him and the sliding Cabrera. I know, it was just a routine double play. But this Giants’ team executes. They make those plays.
Tom Verducci’s story focuses on Gregor Blanco’s perfect bunt, which set up the first run of the game. It was, indeed, an exquisite bunt, if a little lucky. But I want to focus on Hunter Pence’s at bat in the 8th.
So, 1-0 game, bottom of the 8th. The Tigers are an excellent hitting team, and I think most Giants’ fans were worried about the 9th inning. Our closer, Sergio Romo, is one of the goofiest guys in baseball, and one of the most awesome. He’s famous for this thing he does, when one of his teammates is being interviewed, of sneaking behind the guy and making faces, ruining the interview. Love the guy. Anyway, he’s good, but a 1-0 lead is worrisome. You just had this feeling; another run would put this away.
So, bases loaded, one out. A fly ball with score a run. Hunter Pence batting. We traded for Hunter back in July, and he’s one of the most interesting guys in baseball. He does everything wrong: he runs funny, throws funny, bats funny. Only Hunter would do this. I was worried last night, though, because he swings at a lot of bad pitches. A strikeout in that situation would not be good. But he hung in there, fouled off pitch after pitch. And finally, he did his job; just lifted a normal, routine fly ball to center, to score that much needed insurance run.
That’s the Giants. They hit fewer home runs than any other team in baseball this year. But they led all of baseball in . . . sacrifice flies. They execute, they’re fundamentally sound, they’re a team built on guys who do their jobs. I love that kind of competence. They’re my team, and I’m rooting for them to win. But they’re a team that’s easy to like.